"I made more than 30 movies — usually I play the tough guy. I already proved I can do that kind of film. I want to challenge myself to do something I never had a chance to play," Li told FOX News.
The film, which also stars Bob Hoskins (search) and Morgan Freeman (search), follows a slave who never learned to read or write or interact with other humans, but can do one thing better than anyone ... kill.
Freeman and Hoskins play polar-opposite surrogate fathers competing for the heart, mind and deadly dangerous body of Li: Freeman the good guy who teaches him about music and Hoskins the bad guy who teaches him to kill.
But seeing a kinder, gentler side of Li has stirred controversy in China, as he shows emotions and sheds tears ... something looked down upon for an action hero in his country.
"I don't know, our audience, what they think, but I try to tell myself the biggest enemy is myself. Actors always want to challenge themselves — they try to prove they can do not just action movies. I can do an action movie with heart ... it has drama in it ... and maybe in the future I can do a different kind of action film."
Freeman, fresh off his Oscar-winning role as a trainer in "Million Dollar Baby," defended his co-star.
"I don't think he has to prove anything to anybody, anywhere. I mean you get flak — what does that do? I think the body of his fans, they're not concerned," Freeman told FOX News.
FOX News' Mike Waco and Anita Vogel contributed to this report.